Do Anxiety Rings Work? Here’s Our Review
Hair twirling, pen clicking, skin picking.
I’ve been a fidgeter all my life. It happens when I’m overstimulated with pressure and complex emotions, but it also happens when I’m under-stimulated and uninterested in the topic at hand. I doodled, tapped, and bounced my way through school and carried those habits into my work. These days I do most of my work alternating between laying on the floor, bouncing on an exercise ball, or criss-crossed and tangled up in a chair.
I hadn’t thought much of it until I recently sat alone at my local hangout spot, crocheting ferociously while I watched the traffic pass by. Why, even in moments of still contemplation, are my hands always moving?
Fidgeting takes many forms, such as foot tapping or nail biting, and often presents in people with anxiety, ADHD, autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Fidgeting can also be described as stimming, or self-stimulatory behavior, which is a process that helps an individual manage sensory issues like under-stimulation and overstimulation. However, fidgeting is not a behavior that only lives in these spaces—we all have our own individual responses to certain stimuli.
While I’m navigating my own discovery of what fidgeting means for me (hello, psychiatrist wait times), I decided to actually offer myself more opportunities to fidget instead of trying to force myself to sit still. So, thanks to countless TikTok and Pinterest ads, I got myself a spinning ring off Etsy, also called an “anxiety ring” or a “worry ring”. I wanted to see if it could offer me a more subtle outlet than tapping my fingernails or deconstructing mechanical pens and losing the springs.
It’s not just a social media trend, though. “[Anxiety rings] have a long and distinguished history in the practice of a number of religions as aids to contemplation, reflection, relaxation, and prayer,” says Dr. Paul McLaren, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “Motor restlessness and muscle tension are integral components of our fear response, and channeling activity into turning a ring or pushing a bead can promote a sense of relaxation,” Dr. McLaren continues. Basically, fidget rings (and similarly, stress balls, fidget spinners, and other toys) give our restless hands something calming to do while we’re in a heightened state.
I’ve now been wearing my ring for a month; here’s what I’ve noticed:
1. Stimulation Management
My fidgeting has been especially active lately thanks to [name any cause honestly—there’s so much buzzy stimulation everywhere I turn]. This means it can become a major impediment when I’m trying to get work done. One email can send me into a pace around the apartment; a text message can spiral me into scrolling. Instead of a thousand outlets for fidgeting, I’m trying to center it more on one ring to rule them all (heh).
I give the ring a little spin whenever I look up from my deep work and see red bubbles full of numbered notifications and feel overwhelmed. I also spin when I’m feeling tired in the inevitable 2 p.m. slump and don’t feel like doing much of anything. It reminds me to refocus on my priorities for the day and take the next appropriate action.
As I’ve read more about this behavior, I’ve found fidgeting is a way to regulate ourselves to whichever level of stimulation works best for us in the moment, like a thermostat. Katherine Isbister, a Professor of Computational Media and researcher of the intersection of human computer interaction and games, writes in favor of fidget toys: “Psychology research about sensation seeking tells us that people often try to adjust their experiences and their environments so that they provide just the right level of stimulation.” Which, Isbister notes can relieve anxiety, focus the mind, and energize attention.
While I still take breaks to pace, bounce on my exercise ball, or pet my rabbits, having this ring helps me stay put in one spot for a little longer and be more mindful about when I take breaks. (Which is great for *actually getting things done.*)
The first day I had my ring, I held it during a full day of Zoom meetings. I felt calm and not like I had to be checking emails in the background, or doodling, or filing my nails whenever more than one person was present. As I quietly spun the ring off camera, I found it easier to listen for comprehension—rather than listen to respond.
“These rings work by distracting the brain and refocusing your thoughts,” says Tanya Trevett, M. Ed, who uses rings personally to manage anxiety and ADHD symptoms. (The two disorders often appear simultaneously.)
I felt shaken by the realization that my flighty and fraught mind doesn’t always come from a place of “bad” distraction or from being over-caffeinated. When I had a singular point to focus my physical energy, my mental energy began to concentrate as well. I’m not alone—in some individuals with ADHD, doing two things at once (such as fidgeting and studying, for example) can help your brain focus better on the primary task.
The focusing benefits of my spinning ring made me realize how much more I can do to support my own focus—by taking active breaks, allowing myself to pace while I problem solve, and not forcing complete stillness during meetings.
After I realized the ring helped me focus, I also incorporated my ring into my meditation practice. I found myself spinning in rhythm with my breath—to the right while inhaled, to the left while I exhaled. It felt akin to the rosaries of my youth—something to ground me in the moment, a tactical reminder that I am more than my mind, more than my body, and more, perhaps, than my breath.
It has become a type of prayer, which is unsurprising as these accessories can also be known as “meditation rings” and carry similarities to Tibetan prayer wheels that are spun to purify negative karma and send affirmations out into the world.
When I am consumed by mindlessness, which is frequently, I catch a little glint of brass plating and fake glass gemstones on my hand. Even that symbol alone reminds me—hey, be here now. It helps. This was where the anxiety ring became a soothing factor for my worries, my stressors; it felt like a beloved security blanket (which I also have).
And, as the news of the world has unfolded, this little spinning ritual I’ve developed has supported a small semblance of processing. When I’m overwhelmed with grief, I reconnect with the present moment by pressing my fingers to the ring like it’s a life preserver. Because I don’t believe I can be of any help to my human siblings if I am washed adrift in the sea of my own turbulent emotions.
“In times of stress or anxiety, anxiety rings help me refocus and come back to the present moment,” notes Trevett. “The anxiety ring calms my mind from racing thoughts.”
While stimulation management, focus, and presence are all interconnected, they still feel like three separate buckets as I’m navigating how I fidget in my own life. I imagine them, respectively, as clarity of emotions, clarity of mind, and clarity of time. You don’t have to carry a diagnosis of something to desire more of these things (and to find support in something like an anxiety ring)—although that clarity can be extra precious for those of us with additional conditions.
If you’re feeling these same things, I encourage you to meet with a therapist or psychiatrist who can offer you more individualized recommendations. As Dr. McLaren notes, “[An anxiety ring] is not a solution just on its own. Incorporate its use with something like meditation to mindfulness, or use it as an aid to cognitive behavioral strategies for managing anxiety.” It’s a single point of entry for gaining greater awareness about our triggers and coping mechanisms.
But, in the meantime, it’s okay to let your body do what it needs to do in response to the world around you. Whether you get a spinning ring, a silicon bubble popping toy, or stick with the classic retractable pen clicking, these behaviors are okay if they help you regulate and calm yourself.
So did the fidget ring work for me? Yes! A spinning ring is helping me start my own journey into discovering what my behaviors are trying to tell me. It is not a cure, rather, it is a catalyst of consciousness. And for you, a little fidget now and again, hopefully alongside professional therapeutic support, might just help manage your worries and behaviors—without them managing you.
Emily Torres is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits, or gaming.